“How can I help our residents not be so upset?” a caregiver asks.

“Is there any way to respond to a resident when they’re agitated, besides trying to stay calm and just saying ‘I understand’? I’m a new aide in an Alzheimer’s care community and that’s all we were told to do, but I want to help my residents not be so upset.”

Without question, caregivers need specialized training to develop skill at fostering relationships and improving residents’ quality of life.

But if you haven't had specialized training, what can you do right now to make a difference for someone in your care?

Our community of family and professional caregivers shared the strategies they use to make life better for their residents and loved ones. Try these tips and let us know how they help!

1. Find out what’s bothering the person.

“Try and find the cause for the distress (not easy). Or gentle distraction may help.”

“When my husband would get agitated I would talk softly to him, asking what’s wrong. ‘Let me help.’ Offer him a favorite snack, etc. I found that loud surroundings upset dementia patients.”

“Try and determine what is going on in their mind. Are they hungry, in pain, need to go to the bathroom, do activities of the day? Your gentle approach will go a long way. All the best in this rewarding career.”


When you understand the root of a problem, you can prevent distress.

For example, say a resident yells at you whenever you turn the TV on.

First, try not to take it personally. Then ask yourself: Is the TV too loud? Too soft? Does the resident have his glasses? Are they the right prescription? Is he used to watching TV in the morning over coffee, rather than after dinner when he'd rather take a nap? Does he like a different channel?

Find the cause of the problem, and ask your team, the resident, and his family to help.

Also read more about the causes of agitation and how to address them.

2. Focus on their feelings.

“Acknowledge the feeling. Determine if it reflects a need that must be met. Deflect and distract to something more pleasant. A challenge, I know, but it usually pays off.”


Emotions are the heart of who we are and how we behave. They’re also often a clue to the real issue, and a key to resolving the problem.

For example, say a resident always says “I want to go home.” Say she repeats it like a mantra. Say she screams it sometimes.

It might not be so much that she's looking for her physical home. Rather, she might be yearning for the emotion of home, and what home represents: love, acceptance, comfort, safety, familiarity, purpose.

Use the Life Story Questionnaire to understand where she’s coming from and help her feel emotionally secure. Make her feel valued and welcome in your community every day.

3. Read their body language—and give them a hug.


“What you need to do is stay calm take a deep breath, look into their eyes and read what they want to say or do. You don’t need to say anything. Then just give them a big hug. Put your arms around their body, rub their back gently. Then you can feel their hand rubbing your back too, because sometimes they can’t say verbally what they want but you can read it in their gestures or body language. And sometimes only a hug is the answer. ☺”

“Hug them. The power of touch nearly always makes a difference.”


So often dementia can be dehumanizing. People often feel robbed and stripped when they’re not offered choices anymore because of their decline in cognition. Yet it doesn’t have to be this way, because with the right training and resources, you can preserve dignity and provide truly person-centered care.

One strategy is simple: Offering choice and honoring preferences can be a game changer. A life changer. And feeling love is something that every person at every stage of dementia can do. So give those hugs, or even just hold the person’s hand when you have their trust.

How do you resolve distress? Leave a comment below, or join the discussion on Facebook!